Japanese universities find pair of researchers guilty of misconduct in 19 papers

Kenji Okajima

We have an update in the case of two Japanese scientists who first came to our attention when they retracted a 13-year-old paper in the Journal of Neuroscience last year. Shortly after that, we learned, thanks to a report in Sankei Shimbun and a helpful Retraction Watch reader, that some 17 papers were being investigated.

It now appears that 19 papers by the two researchers, Kenji Okajima and Naoki Harada, ended up under scrutiny.

Nagoya City University said last week that their investigation had concluded that Okajima and Harada committed misconduct. The university dismissed Harada, whom they found guilty of misconduct in at least eight of the papers. The investigation couldn’t find any evidence that Okajima was directly involved, but suspended him for six months because he supervised the work.

Kumamoto University, where the researchers worked before Nagoya, said that they had found evidence of misconduct by Harada, Okajima, and two other scientists who were not named in media reports. It’s not clear whether Kumamoto will take any disciplinary action, nor what they could, given that neither Harada nor Okajima still work there.

Both scientists denied committing misconduct, according to the news reports. Harada said he simply made a mistake by publishing a figure with placeholder data, which is how a retraction notice read last year in the Journal of Immunology:

Dr. Harada made this figure for practice for a presentation at an International Congress. He drew data from another experiment in which the same procedure was done. At the time, he did not have correct data because he had not finished experiments to produce genuine data for the figure. Although he went on to finish experiments to get genuine data, he forgot to replace the figure with the correct one before the paper was submitted to The Journal of Immunology.

Okajima, for his part, insisted that he wasn’t aware of any problems with the studies. Nagoya City didn’t buy that, however, pointing out that he was the corresponding author on all of the 19 questioned papers.

We’re not sure which of 19 papers — other than the two already retracted — were the subject of the investigation. Okajima and Harada have published more than19 together, on subjects ranging from the effects of resveratrol on cognitive function in mice to whether raspberry ketones can help hair grow back. In addition to the two retractions, they published a correction in Translational Research in December for “Desalted deep-sea water improves cognitive function in mice by increasing the production of insulin-like growth factor-I in the hippocampus.”

For those Retraction Watch readers who speak Japanese, here are more links. The first one may include a list of the 19 papers, but Google Translate won’t penetrate the PDFs for us. Maybe a Retraction Watch reader can help (and thanks to “Japonica” for translating the news stories for this post):

6 thoughts on “Japanese universities find pair of researchers guilty of misconduct in 19 papers”

  1. As the main character from the comic book “The twelve chairs” would have said:
    “The ice is breaking, ladies and gentlemen from the jury!”

    1. Another retraction by the same authors.

      Translational Research Volume 161, Issue 3, March 2013, Pages 196

      Naoaki Harada, Juan Zhao, Hiroki Kurihara, Naomi Nakagata, Kenji Okajima
      RETRACTED: Desalted deep-sea water improves cognitive function in mice by increasing the production of insulin-like growth factor-I in the hippocampus


      “After the Committee pointed out these fabrications to the authors, they replaced Figures 4A-4I and an Erratum was published in Translational Research (Transl Res. 2011 Dec;158(6):387). However, the Committee has informed us that they have been unsuccessful in confirming that the new figures are the appropriate ones.”

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